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New Analysis of Scientific Studies Questions Connection Between Propecia Use and Persistent Sexual Side Effects

Recent news reports, coupled with warnings from Merck and the FDA, about Propecia’s possible persistent sexual side effects have caused growing concern about this popular hair loss treatment. An increasing number of men now fear that Propecia (finasteride 1mg) will cause permanent sexual dysfunction.

A 2014 meta-analysis, however, found that the number of self-reported cases of persistent sexual dysfunction by patients given finasteride was statistically no different from the number reported by patients given a placebo.

This latest research supports the conclusion of existing literature that there is no correlation between finasteride use and persistent or permanent sexual dysfunction. That said, this is an important issue that still needs to be studied.

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Does Propecia Cause Infertility?

Q: I’ve heard that FDA added a description of reports of male infertility to the side effect labels of both Propecia and Proscar (finasteride). Is this a likely side effect in your experience? — S.S., Rolling Hills, California

A: Propecia (finasteride 1mg) may, uncommonly, lead to male infertility by changing the consistency of the male ejaculate as well as decreasing the sperm count.

Ejaculate is a combination of sperm produced by the testes and a viscous fluid made by the prostate. Since finasteride shrinks the prostate it make the ejaculate less viscous (more watery).

Most patients taking Propecia and trying to conceive have no issues.

If one is trying to conceive for 4-6 months and having difficulty, then it is reasonable to stop taking Propecia.

It is important to know that taking Propecia while trying to conceive will not lead to congenital deformities or issues with the fetus as long as the women does not come in direct contact with the medication.

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Is Propecia Persistent Side Effects Study Reported in the Media Flawed?

Q: As a Propecia user, I was alarmed when I read headlines last year about about a new study indicating very high rates of depression and erectile dysfunction caused by Propecia, with symptoms persisting even after the drug was stopped. However, when I read the articles, this “study” appeared to be survey of 61 men who had taken Propecia and already reported sexual problems who were then asked about symptoms of depression. These rates of depression were compared to a small survey of men who had hair loss but had never taken Propecia.

Anyone with a basic understanding of statistics would know such a survey was deeply flawed. First, it is a textbook example of a bad data sample — to get sound results you have to start with an unbiased and random group of people who took the drug, not a self-selected group of men already suffering symptoms. The study also confuses correlation with causation — because these men are suffering from ED or depression does not necessarily mean it was caused by the drug. Am I missing something here, or did the media just report these “findings” with no scrutiny on what was actually studied? — Jonathan, Brooklyn, NY

A: Jonathan, I think you’re right on the mark. The way the study was conducted raises a lot of concern about the accuracy of the findings. It is really important that additional data is obtained in a controlled way, as this will be most useful for physicians in advising patients. I addressed concern on these reports on the Hair Transplant Blog last year. The issue of persistent sexual dysfunction as a side-effect of finasteride is an on-going issue that we take very seriously. I sit on the International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery (ISHRS) Task Force on Finasteride Adverse Events, so this is an issue that we watch very closely.

Read more about Propecia and Persistent Side Effects

Read more about Propecia (finasteride)

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What is Latest Information on Persistent Side Effects from Finasteride?

Q: I have heard that side effects from finasteride can persist even after stopping the medication. What is the most current information on this issue? — S.V., Short Hills, N.J.

A: For the past two years I have been on the ISHRS’s Task Force on Finasteride Adverse Events and struggling to make sense of this issue. There seems to be a disconnect between the relatively low incidence of side effects that we, as physicians, see in our practices, what published controlled studies have shown, and what is now being reported on the internet. For example, a 2012 study by Sato of 3,177 Japanese men published the Journal of Dermatology, showed a 0.7% incidence of adverse reactions to finasteride 1% and no persistent side effects after stopping the medication.

That said, there has been a recent increase in anecdotal reports of side effects from finasteride as well as reports of persistent side effects after the medication has been discontinued (referred to as “Post-finasteride Syndrome”).

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Should I Start Hair Loss Treatment With Finasteride or Dutasteride?

Q: I recently visited my dermatologist regarding my hair loss, and after checking my hair he said I am showing signs of [Androgenetic Alopecia (AGA)], and said if I don’t treat it, it will progress. From my research on the net, I figured he will put me on Propecia. In fact he put me on Avodart. When I told him it is not FDA-approved for hair loss, and Propecia is, he said Avodart is better and brings DHT down more, and Propecia is nothing next to Avodart. He told me to take it every day for 2 weeks, then every other day from then on as it has a long half life. From researching on the net, many hair restoration doctors, rarely prescribe Avodart for hair loss due to some dangers. What is your opinion on this? — T.G., Darien, Connecticut

A: Although dutasteride (Avodart) can be more effective for male pattern hair loss, I would start with finasteride (Propecia) as many patients do great with it and the safety profile is better. The following are things I would consider before starting dutasteride:

  1. As you point out, dutasteride is not FDA-approved for hair loss.
  2. There is no data on its safety when used for hair loss. This is important since dutasteride has been only tested on an older population of patients (with prostate disease) rather than a younger population of patients needing medical treatment for androgenetic alopecia.
  3. These is no natural model for dutasteride’s combined blockage of both type 1 and 2 5-alpha reductase (finasteride blocks only type 2 5-AR and there are families that have this deficiency and have no long-term problems. This, by the way, is how the drug was discovered).
  4. The type 1 enzyme which dutasteride blocks is present in many more tissues of the body (including the brain) compared to type 2 (which is more localized to the skin).
  5. Although so far unproven, there is a concern that finasteride may produce side effects than can be persistent after stopping the medication (post-finasteride syndrome). It this does turn out to be true, the effects from dutasteride would most likely be significantly more persistent.
  6. If you start with finasteride and do have side effects, you will most surely have side effects from dutasteride; therefore, by taking finasteride first you will have avoided the potentially more problematic side effects from dutasteride
  7. You may respond well to finasteride, and so do not need to consider dutasteride
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